May 13, 2021

George Cochrane Describes Easter Among the Greeks of Athens in 1835

Lithograph of King Otto I by George Cochrane. Otto I, Duke of Bavaria, became first King of Greece in 1832, under the London Convention, whereby Greece became a new independent monarchy under the protection of the great powers (United Kingdom, France and Russia).

George Cochrane arrived in Greece in January 1827 together with his uncle, admiral Thomas Cochrane, who was in command of two British steamships destined to reinforce the Greek fleet in the War of Independence. The first part of his two-volume account includes descriptions of the social, political and war situation in Greece in the last year of the war, together with Cochrane's meetings and conversations with Kolokotronis, Mavrokordatos, Tombazis, Kanaris and Kapodistrias, and his visits to Hydra, Poros, Nafplio, Argos and Athens. Cochrane returned to the Greek state twice, in 1834, and in 1835-36, with the project of setting up a steamship line which would connect Piraeus, Marseille, Malta, Naples, Istanbul, Syros, Izmir and Alexandria.

His two-volume book Wanderings in Greece was published in London in 1837. The edition is enriched with lithographs based on the author's drawings. The text remains one of the most interesting in its kind. Without being a profound political analysis, it paints a very precise picture of the public life of several personalities, mainly politicians, and offers penetrating insight into Greek society in the first years of the foundation of the Greek State.

The first volume of Wanderings in Greece ends with Greeks celebrating festively on the night before Great Lent, after which they returned to their homes to eat nothing but bread and olives for the next forty days. In the second volume Cochrane describes his observations of Easter in Athens in 1835. He writes:

Greece is famous for its fast days and holidays. The Easter which I had been accustomed to keep in Western Europe had passed, and I was to have the pleasure of witnessing another in the same year; for, as I have said before, the Greek and Russian calendars are twelve days later than ours.

Good Friday is a day of great ceremony in Athens. At half-past ten in the evening, high mass was performed in the cathedral church of St. Irene, by the bishop of Athens, assisted by several other bishops. After the ceremony, a procession took place through the town. The bishop was preceded by a body of military, and a military band, playing the Dead March in Saul. At every hundred paces they stopped for five minutes, and then proceeded again. The bishop was accompanied by the rest of the synod, and the principal notables and gentry of the kingdom followed the cortège, which must have extended two hundred yards in length, for at least three thousand people composed it. On their arrival at the palace his Majesty appeared at one of the windows, and bowed to the bishop and the people. The effect was very striking, as many of the persons composing the procession held lanthorns on the tops of long poles; others had long wax tapers, by which the whole was perfectly well illuminated. The cortège, having stopped for five minutes before the palace, the bishop uttered a prayer for the preservation of his Majesty, and then he and his suite proceeded back to the cathedral of St. Irene by a different route.

On the following day, Easter-eve, the ceremony at the cathedral church was graced by the presence of royalty. At eleven o'clock in the evening I proceeded to the cathedral of St. Irene, in company with Colonel Hay, of the guards, who had just arrived at Athens. We went early, and procured a standing place within twelve feet of the throne. The monarch and his suite arrived at a quarter before twelve o'clock, accompanied by a detachment of the guards. After he had placed himself on the throne, which was an elevation of about three feet, the ceremony commenced. It was at midnight precisely that the anthem Χριστός ἀνέστη (Christ has arisen) was sung, the bishop of Athens at the same time scattering incense all around.

After this anthem, another was sung for the preservation of his Majesty, arranged to the air of “God save the King," and I observed very plainly the delight his Majesty experienced. For my own part, the national air of my country, the scene, the novelty of seeing the King of Greece thus situated, the founder of a monarchy which may hereafter rival its ancient days of renown, gave me emotions which the sanctity of the place could scarcely keep me from expressing. Four stanzas of this anthem were sung. On the left, and in the front of his Majesty, were his ministers, the counsellors of state, and his Greek chieftains, in their splendid uniforms. I observed Conduriotti, Bedouri, Drosso Mansola, Kriczis, Mankriani, and several others. I did not observe any of the foreign ministers. The King, when he entered, bore a large wax taper in his hand, and he held it for about an hour, and then gave it to his aide-de-camp, Kotzakos. The Athenian ladies were situated opposite the throne, on the left side of the church. They were separated from the male spectators by a partition. The King remained till half-past one, when, all the prayers being finished, he descended the throne, and passed through the guards, which formed an avenue within the church, and entered his carriage, which conveyed him back to the palace, escorted by the detachment of military, who had persons on their sides bearing torches....

EASTER SUNDAY, April 9, 1835. The Greeks, after having attended mass in the different churches of the town, at the early hour of six and seven in the morning, returned home, to dress themselves and prepare for making visits; which latter take place in Greece between the hours of ten and twelve o'clock in the day. On ordinary days they dine at twelve o'clock, and on feast days at the hour of three. Some walk out into the country with their families, others enter cabarets, and dance the Romaika, to the sound of the lyre and fiddle. All the places of amusement are open on Sunday, and are all full,— the Greeks following the custom of Catholic countries in this respect. But this is not the great day for festivity, Easter Tuesday being more universally adopted as a Greek holiday.